Public relations ethics: Contrasting models from the rhetorics of Plato, Aristotle, and isocrates

Journal of Mass Media Ethics 16 (2 & 3):78 – 98 (2001)
Abstract
As a relatively young profession, public relations seeks a realistic ethics foundation. A continuing debate in public relations has pitted journalistic/objectivity ethics against the advocacy ethics that may be more appropriate in an adversarial society. As the journalistic/objectivity influence has waned, the debate has evolved, pitting the advocacy/adversarial foundation against the two-way symmetrical model of public relations, which seeks to build consensus and holds that an organization itself, not an opposing public, sometimes may need to change to build a productive relationship. A similar battle between adversarial advocacy and symmetry occurred during the emergence of rhetoric in the Athens of the 4th century B.C. Plato and Aristotle favored adversarial/advocacy rhetoric, whereas Isocrates favored a symmetrical rhetoric. Four criteria of comparison of those rhetorics are examined: success of the respective schools, success of the respective graduates, the evaluation of later Roman rhetoricians, and the impact on the future of education. History shows that Isocrates's symmetrical rhetoric clearly was more effective than its adversarial/advocacy rivals. Recent studies of the two-way symmetrical model concur, indicating that it may well be the most effective foundation for public relations ethics.
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